Have you tried to buy your kids’ love out of guilt after
divorce? Or maybe you felt sorry for them and tried to
over-compensate with extra attention, coddling, etc.
My Walk of Shame
I recall when I got divorced way back in 1998. It’s definitely
my walk of shame. My daughter, Maddie, wasn’t quite 2
I gave birth to Maddie on a Thursday afternoon, and I
distinctly remember that the doctors didn’t hand her to
me after birth. They put her in a little, clear bin and cleaned
her up. When I think back on that, that was very strange.
And the next morning, the doctors came into my hospital
room at Alton Memorial Hospital in Alton, Illinois. They told me
that she had a distended stomach, meaning a bloated
stomach in which she didn’t pass her first baby poop.
We were sort of in shock about this. I hadn’t even had time
to really rest from the labor, and I didn’t feel much like walking,
but walk I did…. We packed up and went to St. Louis Children’s
Hospital for further testing. Maddie spent her first two weeks of
life in the neonatal clinic at SLCH.
We commuted to see her daily while living in IL. We had to
wait the nail-bitingly long weekend, wondering what could be
causing this. They didn’t run tests until the week day.
So we drove, in anxious silence, to the hospital, with our boxer,
Maggie, in the back seat, on that rainy Monday, 4/22/96.
When we filed into this huge cold conference room, with several
white coats gathered around, we felt a troubling energy and
knew the news couldn’t be good. That day, we learned she had cystic
fibrosis, a life-threatening, genetic illness that affects the lungs and
It was the worst day of my life. My husband and I cried and cried.
Our dog had diarrhea all over our car as she sensed the tension.
We visited her daily, but Maddie and I didn’t get the normal
bonding a mother has with their child. I tried to breast feed
her and really wanted to because it’s so much healthier, but
because she needed to gain weight, I was discouraged to
I didn’t feel like I was doing it “good enough” because
she wasn’t gaining quickly enough, and I felt insecure as
a new mom, especially with the CF diagnosis on top of that.
Did our initial lack of bonding have anything to do with my
willingness to give custody over to my ex when we divorced
a couple of years later? Maybe…or maybe not.
I wanted joint custody, but my ex was adamant that he wanted
full physical and legal custody, and I allowed this. It makes
me shake my head to this day, when I think about how I could
have arrived at such a decision.
You can see how I was riddled with guilt as well as shame, thinking
I was a horrible mother. And so it might also make sense to you
why I over-compensated to Maddie over the years.
I felt like I needed to make this decision up to her, not only
by spoiling her with buying her what she wanted, but also
giving her a ton of attention when I did get her every other
weekend, holidays, and summer visits.
Much of this was done subconsciously. I didn’t realize I was
trying to “buy” her love. And her grandparents over-gave too, because
when a child has a chronic illness, one tends to “feel sorry” for them.
Many of us are riddled with guilt after we divorce. If we wanted it,
we feel guilty for splitting up the marriage and being the catalyst for
such major upheaval in everyone’s lives. We try to make it up
to our kids by buying them stuff.
If we didn’t want the divorce, we can get in the habit of over-protecting
and coddling our kids with gifts because we feel bad for them. Maddie
had a double whammy of sympathy from folks due to the divorce AND
Looking back at all of this, I believe that what our kids truly want is for
us to see them for who they are and give them our undivided love and
attention. Be present with them.
The material stuff is great but it doesn’t create lifelong memories and
that special warm feeling we get when we’ve made a deep connection
with our child, when they know from the core of their being that we
love them “as is.”
If you would like to receive support and you’re going through
a painful loss or divorce, please come this next Wednesday,
7/12/22 to Women’s Empowerment Through Divorce at my home.
It’s free. Register here.
PS: Schedule a time to speak with me if you’re curious how
I can support you in taking the next step toward a brighter